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Famous People I Have Rubbed Elbows With

by Frances Giles

Just because I hail from Beaumont in southeast Texas doesn't mean I haven't been exposed to people of high caliber starting at a very young age. Yep, I have mingled and hobnobbed with some pretty big names, even if I was way too young to know it in about half of those times, and even if the distance between me and the rich and famous was way out of elbow rubbing range. I'm no rube, you know.

For instance, at about the tender age of five, I was taken to a nighttime appearance of the Cisco Kid and his sidekick, Pancho. They were my Saturday matinee idols, and I yearned to be a cowgirl with my own pony. Their appearance in Beaumont had been advertised for some unrecalled time before their arrival, and I don't even know if I asked to go or if my mother just assumed I would love to go. The venue was the baseball stadium some blocks from our house, Stuart Stadium. The crowd was huge, or so it felt since I was low to the ground and everyone over 7 towered over me. We didn't get to meet either star, and I remember nothing but the pressing, milling crowd and of squalling my self into near hysterics because I failed to get an autographed picture of Cisco on his horse, Diablo, and one of Pancho. My mother was pretty fed up with me and she was fully prepared to drag me bodily to the car, I think, when 2 wonderful teenage girls saved the day. They bent over me with words of comfort that I have no recollection of, and one of them handed me her black and white glossy of the Kid on his rearing horse. It was signed by both stars, and Cisco left a little green horseshoe beneath his signature. Green ink. I was enthralled. Distracted, too, no doubt. I'm sure my mother wanted to adopt them both and leave my snotty little carcass on the parking lot for the buzzards to pick. I still had that 8 x 10 when I packed to go off to nursing school and consigned it to the wastebasket, stupidly.

Another of my brushes with greatness, if you can call it that, is one of which I have absolutely NO recollection, and I'll just have to depend on my brother Butch to certify, sort of, to this. Heck, he was only another year older, and he probably doesn't actually remember the event, either, but our Dad told him about it on a number of occasions in later years, I think. We were both dandled on the knees of a very well known and powerful racketeer of great stature, whatever that meant, from "back East", who was in town conferring with Dad and Uncle Jake, owner and managing staff of the rackets between the eastern edge of Galveston County and into Western Louisiana up to about New Orleans, on "business". I don't even want to know what business they might have discussed.

Later on in life, I may have been 7 or 8, I was introduced to the well known Western Swing fiddler and bandleader Cliff Bruner. He came to our house on Emile to collect the monthly premium on an insurance policy my mother had with his agency, back when agents actually did that. He was a friendly man, smiling and animated, wearing dress slacks, a starched sort sleeved white shirt and a tie. He and my mother laughed and even danced a few steps between the dining room and living room. No doubt I looked puzzled until Mama started stomping her foot and belting out the intro to "Milk Cow Blues". That's when she told me that he was a famous band leader and this was one of his songs. Then I could relate. Cliff Bruner was my Mama's insurance agent. Wow.

My next "brush" with the rich and famous took place at my nursing school graduation in May 1972. I had gone to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, but the full ceremony was held in Austin with every other May graduate of every other nursing AND all other schools. The guest speaker at the nursing school commencement was none other than Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson herself. I was very impressed, I must say. After the indoor ceremony my mother, stepfather, sister-in-law, aunt and I assembled on the grounds of whatever building the ceremony had been held for a photo op. Translation: the cheapest of the Kodak Instamatic camera line operated by Bill, my stepfather. He kept telling me to move to the left, move to the right, back up, step back some more, step FURTHER back. All of a sudden I was sandwiched between two giants in suits who whisked me waaaayyyy off to one side. It seems I had gotten much too close to Mrs. Johnson and her Secret Servicemen took umbrage. I blame Bill entirely for this unnerving incident. That's okay, he got one blistering tongue lashing from Estelle. I say it served him right.

My last interaction with a celebrity was in April 1974. Honolulu, my first real vacation, two weeks in the islands with my best friend since nursing school days. We were in some very fancy restaurant where a roast chicken dinner was going to cost us $7.95, sticker shock to us both, and I spotted the actor Rory Calhoun. He was sitting at a table that was set against a wall and several tiers above the rest of the diners. I grabbed my camera (see Instamatic in previous incident), a pocketful of flash cubes and my Dutch courage consisting of one partially consumed, lurid turquoise, horribly sweet mixed drink with a paper umbrella stuck in it. I approached, asked very deferentially if I could have some pictures and was told by the highly intoxicated gent that I could have one, only one, and "For G--'s sake, don't blind me with that d--n flash!" I was shocked out of my sandals, intimidated to the maximum and did the only thing I could do. I stepped up on the lower tier, pointed that little Instamatic with the flash cube directly at him, snapped the picture in his face, huge flash and all, and scooted away to the sound of epithets hurled at my back.

Brushes with fame have eluded me since then. Fine with me.

Frances Giles
"True Confessions and Mild Obsessions" April 14, 2015 Column
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